Interviews / PR & Communications

Balancing the Grind with Maria Cricchiola, Director of Brand Communications & PR at SiteMinder

Maria Cricchiola is the Director of Brand Communications & PR at the world’s leading open hotel commerce platform, SiteMinder.

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1) To kick things off, could you tell us a little about your career background and current role?

I started as a journalist before I was introduced to the world of communications, where I can still be inquisitive but also enjoy the freedom to tell stories ranging from very local case studies through to pieces that can influence an entire industry.

While I’ve spent time in agency and enjoyed it, the world of in-house, B2B comms is where my passion lies and where I’ve spent most of my career.

For the past seven years, I’ve been fortunate to lead global brand communications & PR for SiteMinder, the world’s leading open hotel commerce platform, which today is used by more than 32,000 hotels in 150 countries around the world.

I’m blessed to have an amazing team and, together, our role is really about making SiteMinder’s brands known to the masses and to protect our position, by making who we are and what we stand for real and relatable. Our role is all about telling the ‘so what’ and ‘why’, and anticipating what’s beyond the horizon.

2) What does a day in your life look like for you? Can you take us through a recent workday?

This is the part where I sound super cliché and tell you that no day looks the same, as it’s the truth. Working with media and, in particular, social media, I operate in an environment that’s not only global, but live 24/7, incredibly dynamic and often demands immediacy.

A recent workday began with catching up on the news that I missed overnight and ended with issuing a media response needed urgently in Europe. Somewhere in between, I switched between the organised chaos that comes with comms, several back-to-back meetings, invoicing and other fun admin, and 2022 planning.

Strategy, planning and people management often don’t make an appearance on ‘to-do’ lists but are huge and vital consumers of time, and at the end of the day the most critical to get right.

3) Does your current role allow for flexible or remote working? If so, how does that fit into your life and routine?

Very much so. At the height of the pandemic, SiteMinder introduced ‘Open Working @ SiteMinder’, which now offers every employee the choice to work how they want to, including working almost entirely from home and visiting the office as needed.

Like many others, working from home took adjustment. The reality is that hours have become longer, and it can be hard to separate work from personal life because both are now present within the home.

So, I make a conscious effort to create boundaries and capitalise on all the things that I can enjoy now, like discovering hidden gems in my neighbourhood during my lunch break, making nice dinners instead of those cooked-in-15-minute meals (as enjoyable as those can be), and running personal errands without having to take time off.

Whatever time I may lose through the longer hours, I try to make up by enjoying those things. Plus, I’ve always thought it’d be so great to rock up to work in pyjamas one day – and now I sort of can, every day!

4) What does work-life balance mean to you and how do you work to achieve that goal?

To me, work-life balance means being present and that requires discipline, knowing your priorities, and knowing that balance won’t be achieved everyday.

SiteMinder just went through a very exciting period and I’d be lying if I said I achieved much work-life balance in the weeks leading up to that. But I can tell you that, the minute it was over, I took time off and I’m also looking forward to an extended break over the holidays.

I’ve found that it’s primarily on you to create that balance, because no one else can do that for you. It’s on you to decline that superfluous meeting, suggest an alternative time when a call is booked over lunch, and wait until the next day to action that email you happened to see just before hitting the sack.

Without balance, every day can feel like a constant game of whack-a-mole and that level of intensity and focus isn’t sustainable.

In an effort to create my own pace, I set boundaries – for others and for me. I’ve gotten creative about how to infuse physical activity into my day. For example, I do a lot of heavy reading while walking on the treadmill.

A lot of focus has rightly been put on mental health over the last two years, but emotional and spiritual health are as important to me, and they suffered most during lockdowns. There are no substitutes for time spent with family, or time spent practising your faith with others.

So, I make time for both of those things as much as I can now. I’ve actively worked at being more selfish with my time, and in doing so have hopefully given my team and others permission to do the same.

5) In the past 12 months, have you started or stopped any routines or habits to change your life?

It’s been said that there’s never enough time to do all the things you want, and that’s never been truer since moving into a working-from-home environment where the line between my personal and working life can get blurry. So, I’ve started taking at least one day off each month to recalibrate. I use the time as a digital detox and that is my only plan for those days.

During the week, I’ve reintroduced Focus Wednesdays a.k.a. No Meetings (And Sometimes No Slack) Wednesdays for me and my team, and I’m fiercely committed to those. I’ve become fairly disciplined about doing some kind of cardio during the day and, if I know I’ve got commitments with other parts of the world at an absurd hour, I’ve been known to take a siesta. (It works!)

Our marketing team social committee recently ran a Team Olympics that ran over four weeks. Every weekday, the entire team was challenged to complete at least 30 minutes of physical activity and more than the challenges themselves, I remember not liking the first thought that came to my mind which was: ‘I don’t have time for this’.

It’s a thought that too many of us have when our working lives are so busy, and so I made it a personal goal to win those Olympics alongside my wonderful team, the aptly-named Not So Fast But Furious. (And, yes, we did win.)

6) Do you have any favourite books, podcasts or newsletters that you’d like to recommend?

Not a newbie, but one that I wish I’d read much, much earlier is: Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking. I spent far too long believing I was inadequate before discovering that I am, in fact, a part of a mighty minority who both gain and lose their balance in a different way to most others.

7) Are there any products, gadgets or apps that you can’t live without?

Basically, anything in my kitchen.

8) If you could read an interview about work-life balance by anyone, who would that be?  

My mother. She worked two jobs to make ends meet alongside my father, but still managed to find time to cook with love for six children (and we can eat!), be present at parent-teacher interviews (I vividly remember her always running toward my school to make the last available time slot), and listen to me as I read out my awful poems and constantly reminded her that I’d be a journalist one day, ha. What a saint.

9) Do you have any last thoughts on work, life or balance that you’d like to share with our readers?

Allow yourself to laugh! Choose what works for you and be kind to yourself. You’re an individual with a job, personal commitments, preferences, motivations and tolerances that are unlike anybody else’s.

I’ve read that a lot of the world’s greatest leaders get up at the crack of dawn to go for a run, for example, and you know what? I’ve been there, I’ve tried that and, after many gruelling hours the day prior, and the day before that, I will happily opt for a sleep-in and large cup of coffee instead, thanks!

You have to know what is important to you so that when you do have to make a choice about what to sacrifice, those things always take priority. If you’re honest with yourself, everything else can wait. Yes it can.

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About Author

Hey there! I'm Hao, the Editor-in-Chief at Balance the Grind. We’re on a mission to showcase healthy work-life balance through interesting stories from people all over the world, in different careers and lifestyles.